There was a time, not so long ago, when buyers and sellers could actually talk to each other. Incredible as it sounds, people met and spoke, face to face, or talked on the phone. Questions and answers flowed backward and forward in real time. Body language was read and buying signals evaluated. Thank goodness we now have email to hide behind. No need for all that stuff – now we can COMMUNICATE.
In this brave new world, it makes sense to record emails into CRM systems, and because the email tool of choice in most companies is Microsoft Outlook, let’s look at the pros and cons of integrating it with your CRM system.
Microsoft Outlook – what is it?
Not a trick question. Microsoft Outlook provides a raft of features unrelated to the sending and receiving of emails. This includes Calendar, To Do Lists, Contact lists, unstructured notes storage – and much more. So when we consider integration with a CRM system it is important to clearly identify which elements we want to integrate.
The obvious first integration point is email. Because a lot of business exchanges now require a historical audit element, this can be achieved through the diligent storage of every email. As terms on contracts are amended and agreed, the email trail can provide the sequence of change and show who agreed to what, and when.
Unfortunately, building this compete audit trail can create information overload. How many of us have been part of a seemingly never ending exchange of emails, just to get 4 people together for a meeting? Using an email trail to provide an audit produces too much data and not enough accessible information.
Calendars and tasks
Outlook’s ability to manage and share calendars across organisations has driven major changes in how we work together as teams. Our diaries can now be easily accessed with open visibility, and setting up internal meetings can be done in a matter of a few clicks, thereby saving time and increasing efficiency.
This change in behaviour has brought about a new dynamic in sales. Often, people from outside my own organisation will send me an unsolicited Outlook appointment request; however, they have confused efficiency in scheduling a date in the diary with giving me a reason to attend the meeting.
The use of Outlook appointments for project meetings isn’t a huge success either. Unless there is a link from the appointment to the client we are meeting to discuss, then we could miss the valuable contact provided by the CRM system.
Most of us will have, at some time, backed up our mobile phone contacts to Outlook. It seemed like such a good idea to eliminate the risk associated with a lost phone. However, the contacts area of most people’s Outlook contains a mixture of personal and business contacts, rarely with the quality of data required to make them valuable in CRM terms. Speaking as someone who is regularly asked to import Outlook Contacts into a new CRM system, it is my least favourite data source, as it invariably is the messiest and least well-structured data source.
The majority of CRM systems available today will provide some level of integration with Microsoft Outlook. We consider it to be a “must have” feature in most implementations. Take note though: it is important not to confuse integration with replacement. For my money as a user, Outlook is still the best tool for writing emails and receiving replies. I need my CRM integration to allow me to selectively store copies of emails against the relevant records in CRM. But beyond that, Outlook is a secondary application for me. All of my appointments, tasks and contacts are in the CRM system where they can be shared and accessed by my colleagues.